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Published in Print: October 13, 1999, as Partnership on Teaching To Regroup

Partnership on Teaching To Regroup

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Though the original design for NPEAT proved unwieldy, people involved with the effort expressed hope that its spirit--to link research and practice--could be preserved.

The first incarnation of the National Partnership for Excellence and Accountability in Teaching has come to an end.

NPEAT, as it is known, will not request a third year of funding from the $23 million the U.S. Department of Education had extended under a five-year contract--a decision that leaves some researchers without money to finish their projects on teaching quality.

Instead, the NPEAT partners said last week that they plan to "reconstitute" their work and seek financing from the department or another source.

"We are not out of business," said Mary Hatwood Futrell, the chairwoman of NPEAT's policy board. "Basically, we were concerned that this was too broad, and we need to have a much more narrow focus" to help improve teaching and learning.

The partnership was intended to bring education organizations and researchers together around the issue of high-quality teaching.

But from the start, NPEAT was plagued by divisions between the two groups, cumbersome requirements from the Education Department, and an unclear mission. ("Teaching Partnership Regroups To Define Mission and Survive," Feb. 3, 1999.)

Many of the researchers who are conducting work for NPEAT already had been forced to retool their investigations in an earlier reorganization of the partnership.

"This was an unfortunate use of a lot of people's time and a lot of the government's money," said Jon Snyder, the director of teacher education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was studying the effects of teacher education. "Everyone's disappointed."

'No Guarantees'

NPEAT was created in 1997 with a $23 million contract to the University of Maryland College Park. Each year, the Education Department has had the option of canceling the contract.

C. Kent McGuire, the assistant secretary for the office of educational research and improvement, made no secret of his dissatisfaction with the project, raising the possibility last fall of terminating the contract.

But Mr. McGuire said last week that the NPEAT executive committee's recent decision was not ordered by his office.

"I have to applaud them for deciding to engage in a reconception of the partnership," Mr. McGuire said. "They are still not as clear as I want them to be about what it is they believe they can do" to improve teaching.

In the short term, the partnership plans to ask the Education Department for an extension of the current contract year to finish ongoing research projects. Ms. Futrell said the partnership has $750,000 that it wants to use to keep operating if the extension is granted.

In the future, NPEAT hopes to submit a proposal to the department to subsidize the revised project, said Ms. Futrell, the dean of the graduate school of education and human development at George Washington University and a former president of the National Education Association.

One likely target might be the department's Fund for the Improvement of Education. Individual researchers also could apply for competitive grants to carry out their work.

"There are no guarantees really to anyone as to whether that fund would be available," Mr. McGuire said, "and I assume that the organizations involved in NPEAT know that."

The Education Department will work hard to wrap up NPEAT's work thoughtfully, the assistant secretary added. "I believe that we'll be able to show some very important, if incomplete, returns on our investment from NPEAT."

'Risky Step'

Though the original design for NPEAT proved unwieldy, people involved with the effort expressed hope that its spirit--to link research and practice--could be preserved.

"The concept is great, but the implementation of the consortium and the project has been problematic," said Don Cameron, the executive director of the NEA, one of the partnership's member groups. "The partners are determined to get it up and running and make sure it operates the way it should."

Despite an uncertain future, NPEAT is continuing to search for a new executive director. Willis D. Hawley stepped down from that post in June.

In the meantime, the University of Maryland has selected an interim executive director to oversee NPEAT's remaining obligations to the federal government. George Marx, scheduled to begin work this week, retired last spring as the vice president of academic affairs for the University of Maryland system.

NPEAT has 30 partner organizations, about a dozen of which are represented on its executive committee. Editorial Projects in Education Inc., the nonprofit corporation that publishes Education Week and Teacher Magazine, is a partner.

Edna Mora Szymanski, the dean of the University of Maryland's college of education, argued that the executive committee's decision to reconstitute NPEAT "indicates the partnership's maturity and viability."

"We took a very risky step not knowing what the future would be," Ms. Szymanski said. "Rather than continue to put Band-Aids on something that perhaps needed surgery, the partnership itself took this step."

Mr. Snyder of the University of California said that even with all the headaches involved with doing research for NPEAT, he'd do it again.

"I'd rejoin for the idea of linking practice and policy and research," Mr. Snyder said. "Ultimately, that's an idea that has power. It didn't work this time, but it's what we've got to do."

Vol. 19, Issue 7, Pages 1,14

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